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With mixed media, Ayu finds expression in weaving identity

By Omiko Awa
16 January 2022   |   2:51 am
As a creative artist engaged in traditional and contemporary art forms, Wanger Ayu explores multicultural themes to project African cultural values to the world.

As a creative artist engaged in traditional and contemporary art forms, Wanger Ayu explores multicultural themes to project African cultural values to the world.

Weaving Identity


Also doubling as a fashion designer, Ayu is currently interrogating the Tiv’s A’nger fabric, using the patterns to enhance her paintings, printmaking and collage.

Although every artwork has a story behind it, the artist revealed that the diverse cultures and people she has come across in the course of her travels informed her genre of art.

According to her: “I had never been connected to who I am as a person before now. My father is Tiv from Benue and my mother is from Esan, Edo State, while I am born in Jos, Plateau State, but lives in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Nigeria.”

Connecting her journeys, perhaps, subconsciously to the rest of the world, Ayu, who had part of her education in England, and lived in Dubai, UAE, for a while before returning to Nigeria to do the compulsory one year National Youth Service in Enugu State, disclosed that her exposure to different people and cultures other than her native Tiv culture only is making her dwell on the multi-culture art form for expression

The artist, who now lives in Lagos, has just held her debut show titled, Weaving Identity. The two-man show, which was held from December 17 to 23, 2021 at DICA Art, Lagos, showcased some of Ayu’s cultural exploits on the canvass.

Appearing in mixed media, the works were set on native fabric and cultural motifs.

As a debutant in an art exhibition, she said: “The exhibition sold out.”

Apart from celebrating her native Tiv’s A’nger fabric, Ayu’s paintings showed her versatility on figurative works.

Her works, she noted are emerging in phases and will soon dominate the art space. She said: “The works are phased with ‘multiplicity’ being the first part. I am ultimately focused on disruptions: breaks, ruptures, and disruptive events and their effects on the individual, the family and the society.”

Pieces like Kura (keep watch or guard), acrylic on A’nger cloth; Kumakavwen (it is time to understand), white charcoal pencil, acrylic on A’nger cloth mounted on canvas; Bundesaan (no longer lost), acrylic canvas and Avadoo (it shall be good), white charcoal pencil and acrylic are among works that celebrate the beauty of finding expression in mix media of traditional and contemporary art forms.

Curator, Naomi Edobor, disclosed that in the multiplicity body of work, Ayu used the A’nger cloth, a piece of black and white striped plain-woven cloth produced on the narrow band loom by the Tiv people of the Benue valley, as a background from which she wove a tale. She added that the entirety of the artist’s works seeks to engage the public by exploring the tensions between the past and present.

“The A’nger cloth is the most popular dress in Tiv land. Men and women — the two complementary forces that make up all aspects and phenomena of life — wear it. The cloth’s colours depict unity,” she said.

Edobor further explained that the multicultural background of Ayu reiterates the exception that the average person in the 21st century is a coalesce of multiple cultures and influences.

She cited the relevance of the tribal distinctions in a Nigerian context, on the roles of tribe and ethnicity within the country as a micro-reflection of the issues of race and dominance in a global space.

“We are all different and, yet the same, with threads like wed connecting us more closely than we realise. Our cultural identity is an essential part of the conflict, and conflict resolution, shaping our perceptions and ideas of self,” Edobor continued. “These are always changing and always being renegotiated; we are constantly in this shift, forcing us to have debates with ourselves about who we are and who we want to be or has become.”

Born in 1986, Ayu is a self-taught materials experiment artist and a fashion designer.

She studied law at the University of Exeter, UK, and fashion in the Middle East, where she earned a diploma from the French Fashion University (ESMOD), Dubai, UAE. She launched her fashion label, ‘Wanger Ayu’, which earned her the patronage of acclaimed Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as well as several nominations, including being nominated twice for the Future Awards prize in fashion.

Her transition to studio practice began in 2017, when, after surgery, she was indoors for many weeks, unable to walk more than a short distance or engage in much physical activity. Art became her therapy and escape; providing freedom for expression.

Since then, she has been mentored by some of Nigeria’s old and contemporary masters including Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya and Sam Ovraiti through the Harmattan Workshop Series. Others are, Nduwhite Ndubuisi, Uthman Wahab and Patrick Akpojotor.

Some of her influences include, Vermeer, Collins Sekajugo, Abass Kelani and Billie Zangewa.

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